IT Management

Gartner, the industry’s preeminent IT research and analysis firm, has published several reports and case studies that promote the idea that IT buyers should migrate their applications off of mainframe systems and move them to other, more “modern platforms.” Part of Gartner’s logic, it appears, is that there’s an impending-doom shortage of mainframe managers about to occur as elderly mainframe managers retire. Thus, Gartner concludes that moving applications to other, more modern platforms might help ensure the long-term viability of enterprise applications on those platforms.

OK, so where’s the proof that mainframe skills will decline to critical levels over the next several years? And which modern platform is Gartner advocating?

On the Alleged, Pending Skillset Crisis

Gartner’s suggestion of the alleged, forthcoming decline of mainframe skills constitutes an “urban legend” (something that might make sense on the surface but has no basis in fact). Mainframe skills can be found in abundance in various geographies, and there has been a huge increase in the number of students in colleges and universities studying mainframe curriculum (in 2005, 10,000 students were taking mainframe courses—that number is now 50,000; and the number of institutions teaching mainframe courses has tripled over the same timeframe). Further, analysis shows that the mainframe resource pool may actually number 400,000 people—a huge number that should offset mainframe retirements. Given these statistics, Gartner’s skillset shortage argument needs to be justified. 

On the Migrate to a “More Modern” Platform Advice

As for the advice about moving to “more modern” platforms, Gartner needs to: 

  • Prove there is indeed a more modern commercial platform than a mainframe
  • Clarify which more modern platform they have in mind.

As Gartner sorts through these points, it should be noted that even Gartner admits mainframes run modern Java workloads, are good for large Linux consolidations, and are strong in Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) message handling. Gartner also points out that mainframe specialty processors (such as zIIPs and zAAPs) make mainframes attractive for handling certain data-intensive and Java workloads. So, given that Java and SOA are about as modern as an infrastructure can get, how is it possible to argue that mainframe users should move to other platforms?

In addition to Java, SOA, and specialty engine support, also consider that:

  • No other system in the marketplace has more advanced virtualization, provisioning, and workload management capabilities than a mainframe—or can operate at 100 percent utilization for extended (often years-long) periods of time.
  • No other system has more advanced security and crypto services than a mainframe (e.g., no other more modern platform offers EAL level 5 security).
  • No other system has a larger communications backplane than a mainframe (this is important for handling massive amounts of data and for processing millions of SOA messages—and it also cuts down on the need for hundreds of network interface cards and associated bridges, hubs, and routers).
  • No other system provides better meantime-between-failure and greater business resiliency than a mainframe.
  • No other system offers better linear scalability than a mainframe.

In short, if “modern” means to thoroughly address enterprises’ continuing, most critical IT and business requirements, then mainframes are the most modern platforms available in the commercial marketplace today.

Still, several of Gartner’s research reports seem to indicate that other platforms can serve as alternatives or migration options to replace mainframes (although Gartner doesn’t name them). But maybe some of Gartner’s marketing activities can provide a clue as to which platforms are their more modern mainframe alternative choices:

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